Heirloom Expert: Container Tomatoes
By Doug Oster
My mother is getting up in years and has moved into an assisted living residence, but still longs to garden. I want to set up a garden of containers so she can still enjoy her favorite pastime. She loves growing a family heirloom tomato; her uncle brought the seeds back from Italy. They did great in the garden, but I’m wondering if I can grow a full-sized tomato in a pot?
Tomatoes can be challenging to grow in pots, but by choosing the right container your mother will have a great chance to succeed in growing her favorite plant.
The No. 1 reason tomatoes fail when grown in containers is lack of consistently moist soil. That means you’ll need a big pot and religious watering. Do yourself a favor and either invest in or make a self-watering container. The Earth Box is a popular choice and can be found at local retailers or online. There’s a reservoir of water in the bottom of the box. Above it is a shelf with a piece of fabric on it which hangs down into the water. On top of the fabric is the growing medium. Use a good organic grow mix — it will be lightweight and filled with nutrients.
There’s a tube coming up from the water through the growing medium. When the mix gets dry, it calls for the water using a principle called wicking. As long as the reservoir is filled, the soil will remain moist. That’s the way to grow tomatoes in containers!
If you’re cheap like me, there are lots of plans online to make your own self-watering container. Have fun setting up the garden for your mother, and this summer enjoy a good old-fashioned tomato sandwich together.
Doug is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Backyard Gardener (www.post-gazette.com/gardeningwithdoug) and co-host of The Organic Gardeners radio program on KDKA.
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